Watching my calico cat, Phoenix, while she naps instantly calms me down. Stretched out on her side with her fluffy belly exposed, she kneads the air, purring softly. For a moment I can forget about whatever is bothering me and just exist with her in a place of relaxation and trust.
It was a similar image of a cat lying in repose that served as the touchstone for the Scottsdale Cat Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, founded in March 2007. Practice manager Scott Hermanson says that his wife, clinic owner and veterinarian Judy Karnia, envisioned an office with the same atmosphere as a resort spa, aimed at relieving the stress and tension associated with vet visits for both cats and humans.
Also helping to relieve stress: The Scottsdale Cat Clinic is for cats only — and it’s one of the only clinics of its kind in town. After spending her career working with cats and studying their behavior, diseases, and attitudes, Karnia knew about cats’ unique way of responding to stress and sought to minimize that as much as possible.
"As both predator and prey animals, cats have highly developed responses to stress," Hermanson says. "Because a cat-only clinic has no barking dogs, no lingering canine smells, and a generally calmer, more comfortable environment, the cats arrive with less stress."
In addition to keeping cats healthy, the Scottsdale Cat Clinic is also involved in the local rescue scene. Previously having worked as a shelter vet, Karnia knows firsthand that a surplus of homeless domestic pets often leads to tragic results.
"Having to make difficult life and death decisions, oftentimes extraneous to an animal’s health, solidified my desire to use my clinic as another option for these animals to find a home," Hermanson says.
To help alleviate cat homelessness in the area, the Scottsdale Cat Clinic hosts an annual open house each spring benefiting Safe Haven for Animals, a no-kill shelter in Scottsdale. At the event, visitors get to see how the clinic operates beyond the exam room, with 100 percent of ticket sales benefitting Safe Haven. A number of donated items are also raffled off, such as cat trees, scratching posts, original artwork, toys, and bags of food, as well as pet sitting and grooming services. (For more information on attending the event or donating an item, visit the Scottsdale Cat Clinic’s website.)
Hermanson also hopes someone’s family gets a little bigger that day.
"Visitors get to see — and hopefully adopt — some cats from Safe Haven," he says. "We turn our lobby area into an adoption center, with eight or so cats ready to be taken home that day. Both Scottsdale Cat Clinic and Safe Haven hope that they are irresistible."
In keeping with their mission, the clinic is home to full-time feline resident Kristina, who was rescued from Safe Haven. According to Hermanson, the cat had a "rough time" at the shelter, spending most of her time hiding in a corner. Her first few months at the clinic weren’t much better, but she has slowly come out of her shell.
"Eventually, over the course of months, she has grown more comfortable here," Hermanson says. "She now regularly patrols the clinic, talks to arriving clients and patients, and likes to sit on the reception counter and be petted."
Keeping cats healthy is as important as rescuing them, which is why Karnia spends time educating her patients about their cats’ health, particularly the myth that cats do not need to visit the vet regularly or that they’re fine until they start showing symptoms. She also discusses cats’ life care with owners, including dental care, regular exams, vaccinations, and health screenings. This helps veterinarians to stay on top of a cat’s unique health concerns and allows owners to plan for possible expenses.
"Because cats are so good at hiding their illness and pain, many people have misconceptions about cats and their need for medical care," Hermanson says. "All too often I see cats with conditions that have persisted for months, even years, until the cat is in a particularly bad way. If the owner had been bringing that cat to the veterinarian’s office for regular visits, we can catch the problem early on, greatly increasing our chances of helping the animal."
The importance of their cats’ health is something the clinic’s regular patients know well. Many have been coming to the Scottsdale Cat Clinic since it opened, which has given Karnia and Hermanson the opportunity to play a valuable role in their lives.
"We have some wonderful clients, people who will do anything for their cats," Hermanson says. "It’s a source of great joy to welcome these cats into our clinic, see their continuing health, and know that the wonderful life they have at home is in small part our doing."
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<pAbout Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.